Cologne - Autumn is coming in Europe. Leaves are changing colour, days are getting shorter and nights are getting colder. The Bundesliga, however, is only just warming up. Five Matchdays take place over the next 24 days, and for the league's European representatives, that number jumps to seven with the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League group stages set to get underway.
The rush of games means that by early October we will have pointers as to the direction each Bundesliga side’s season is heading. Can Bayer 04 Leverkusen maintain their astonishing early season form? How will Borussia Dortmund cope with Marco Reus' latest injury setback? How well will FC Bayern München's big-name signings adapt to their new surroundings?
Nowadays, however, it isn’t just German fans interested in the answers to these questions. The Bundesliga’s appeal has grown to the extent that worldwide, record numbers are watching. Germany’s triumph in the FIFA World Cup merely confirmed that the Bundesliga is the place to be. Former Brazilian striker Giovane Elber, a four-time Bundesliga champion with FC Bayern, claimed that in his homeland, interest in the Bundesliga has "increased enormously. Not just because Germany deserved to win the World Cup, but also because more and more high-profile, high-quality players are joining German clubs from La Liga and Serie A".
Elber was speaking at 'Legends' Day' in FC St. Pauli’s Millerntor stadium in Hamburg, where bundesliga.com caught up with some heroes of the German game, and sought out their answers to the burning questions.
Can Bayer Leverkusen maintain their form?
Although Elber still sees his former club, Bayern, as favourites for the title, he has been impressed by the football being played by die Werkself. "I’ve followed the first couple of Matchdays from Brazil," he said. "I’ve really enjoyed Leverkusen’s attacking style of play."
His words were echoed by Jens Nowotny. "They’ve started the season really well," said the Leverkusen legend with 336 Bundesliga appearances to his name. "It’s obviously been really pleasing." Former Hamburger SV star Bastian Reinhardt was equally impressed, but did send a warning to Roger Schmidt’s early pace-setters. "They’ve got to keep it up the whole season," he said. "They need to keep up this level of performance in order to be a threat to the Bavarians."
Will Dortmund suffer again due to lack of personnel?
Reinhardt believes so. "In losing Robert Lewandowski, they lost the best striker in the Bundesliga," he makes clear. "With Lewandowski also went their ability to compete with Bayern. I don’t think they’ll be the biggest threat this year." Regular Sky pundit and Bayern legend Stefan Effenberg, however, claimed that Jürgen Klopp’s transfer recruitment makes Dortmund favourites for the title.
After last season’s injury nightmare, Klopp has used the transfer window to reinforce intelligently across his squad, and as a result die Schwarz-Gelben possess one of their best units in recent memory. The additions of Adrian Ramos, Ciro Immobile and Dong Won-Ji up front, Shinji Kagawa in midfield and Matthias Ginter at the back should ensure that 2013/14’s injury panic is avoided. The question, however, after Reus’ latest injury, is how will BVB cope with their key man missing a month of the season?
Xabi Alonso answered this question pretty well on his debut in the 1-1 draw with FC Schalke 04. The Spaniard was brilliant in his 68 minutes, and Allianz Arena regulars can look forward to plenty more masterclasses in controlling a game. Juan Bernat has slotted in seamlessly either at left-back or as a wing-back, while Lewandowski opened the scoring against Schalke in typically predatory fashion.
With Franck Ribery, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thiago Alcantara, Rafinha and Javi Martinez yet to play a minute in the Bundesliga this season, you can be sure that the Bavarians will soon be at their best. The big question, however, surrounds new Moroccan centre-half Medhi Benatia, who began training this week after his signing from AS Roma. Can the 27-year-old slot into a three-man defence and allow Guardiola to play what now looks to be his favoured 3-5-2 formation?
Which direction will Hamburg’s season take?
Discussing his former club, Reinhardt claims "it was always to be expected that this would be a tough season". After a draw and a defeat in their opening two games against the two newly-promoted clubs, it looks like it will once again be an uphill slog for the Bundesliga’s only ever-presents.
"The team have got to click at once," claims Reinhardt, after the deadline day signings of Julian Green and Lewis Holtby. He is however, "optimistic because the experienced heads in the dressing room know what the Bundesliga is about, and the club have strengthened well". Much will depend on how quickly Green and Holtby can restore some much-needed confidence to the fallen giants.
Watch this space...
One thing is for sure amongst all the questions: the Bundesliga is more intriguing than ever, as Leverkusen, Dortmund, Bayern and Hamburg will discover over the next few weeks. It’ll be a warm Autumn if you’re watching the Bundesliga - and these questions will definitely be answered.
Dennis-Julian Gottschlich/Daniel Thacker
Check out some of the huge names who joined the league of the World Champions this summer courtesy of the official Bundesliga YouTube channel: